Ghent is a beautiful city less than 1 hour from Brussels . It is perfect to meet her in one day and without a doubt you will leave wanting more. It is halfway to Bruges from Brussels, so if you are thinking of making a route through Belgium , Ghent is a mandatory stop. If you are still not sure which places to visit in the country, do not miss my travel guide to Belgium , where you will find many articles related to the different cities, as well as activities, best tours, tips, hotels…
1. Start by doing a free walking tour in Ghent
In Ghent you have the option of doing a couple of free tours. It is a good option to get to know the city with the help of a local guide.
2. Cross the San Miguel Bridge
The San Miguel Bridge and the area that surrounds it is one of the most symbolic areas of the city. From here you can see the 3 towers, the municipal bell tower, the Cathedral of Saint Bavo and the church of Saint Nicholas.
You will also find the Church of San Miguel, the canal and the docks of medieval origin.
3. Graslei and Korenlei Quays
The Graslei and Korenlei quays were the center of trade during medieval times. You will find them on both banks of the main canal.
Currently, these piers are the city’s most popular and touristic motor.
The views from here are beautiful. You will find facades from different periods so characteristic of Belgium. It is full of terraces where you can have a drink. If you dare, you can board one of the small boats to take a cruise through the canals.
4. Visit the Cathedral of Saint Bavo
Saint Bavo ‘s Cathedral is a 15th-century Gothic building that replaced a 12th-century Romanesque church.
Initially the Cathedral was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist , but in 1540 it came under the order of Saint Bavo .
The interior is impressive, do not stay only with the exterior. Inside you will find several artistic works of great value such as the baroque altar made of oak and marble. You can’t miss the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb either.
5. Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is an impressive 20-panel panel painted by the Van Eyck brothers.
This work has the “honor” of being one of the most stolen works of art in history.
It was finished in the year 1432 in order to be the altarpiece of the chapel that the then mayor of Ghent was building in this church.
In the year 2000 it moved to its current location in St. Bavo’s Cathedral.
6. Enjoy the best views of the city by climbing the Belfost Tower
Going up to the Municipal Belfry, also known as the Belfost Tower, is one of the best things to do in Ghent. I am a big fan of panoramas and aerial views, and from here you will enjoy some fantastic views. This tower was used as a defensive tower, to warn the population of enemy attacks.
The Municipal Bell Tower of Ghent dates from the year 1380. The first bell known as Roeland was installed in it .
Now on a pedestal at the foot of the Belfort Tower you can see a bell that has the same name, and that was part of the chime that was built in 1659 after the original Roeland was melted down .
The large bell you can see now was removed from the carillon when it was electrified in 1918.
7. Go to the Municipal Pavilion
It is a modern construction from 2012 that stands out surrounded by old buildings. It is striking that it is represented as a large canopy 40 meters long, under which various events are held.
8. Find the Van Eyck Brothers Monument
Right next to Saint Bavo’s Cathedral you will find the great monument with statues of the Van Eyck brothers . Although it is easy to find, just behind the apse. And it is one of the most beloved monuments by locals. It dates from the year 1913 and the architect of this work was Valentin Vaerwyck.
9. Ghent Town Hall
It is impossible for the Ghent town hall to go unnoticed. In it you will find two notable architectural styles on its facades.
One of them shows a flamboyant Gothic style from the beginning of the 16th century.
The other facade is in the 17th century Renaissance style with architecture inspired by Italian palaces.
10. Vrijdagmarkt Square
Vrijdagmark is one of the main squares in Ghent.
It has a somewhat macabre past, as it was the scene of executions. The last of which took place in the year 1822.
In the center you will find the statue of a historical character from the Middle Ages, Jacobo de Artevelde .
The most wonderful thing about this square are the historical buildings that surround it. In it you will find many restaurants and bars. Here they also put the market a few days a week, change depending on the season of the year. Ask at your hotel for the schedules.
11. Visit the Castle of the Counts of Flanders
In the very center of Ghent you will find a huge medieval castle. It is the only one preserved in Flanders. It is a very well-kept fortress, and from its walls you will have beautiful views of the city.
The Castle of the Counts of Flanders was the first wooden castle of the 10th century. It has had a great wall and 24 towers since 1180.
12. STAM, visit the Ghent City Museum
If you have time and you like museums, the STAM is the main museum in the city, where you will find the detailed history of Ghent since the Middle Ages.
In the museum you will find huge aerial photographs of the city from different eras. As well as objects, newspapers… It is located in 3 historic buildings. The Abbey from the 14th century, a convent from the 17th century and a current building from the 20th century.
13. Visit the meat market
Near Graslei you find the Meat Hall . It is an old market from the 15th century with a large wooden roof, which at that time and until the 19th century centralized the meat trade in the city.
Currently it is a leisure area where you can buy and taste different regional foods and drinks. And although it is not the cheapest place to eat in Ghent, it is one of the most popular and I recommend that you take a walk to enjoy the local cuisine and the good atmosphere, especially when night falls.
14. Ghent alleys and their graffiti
One of the things that I liked most about Ghent is that in the historic center, strolling through the areas farthest from the great square, you will find a lot of urban art.
I didn’t have time to fully enjoy it, nor to learn a little more about the artists who have captured their art in the streets. But it is worth buying a coffee or a drink in the center and getting away from the most touristic area, to go through its most colorful alleys.
It is very easy to find, do not miss them!
15. The Kouter Flower Market
If you are visiting Ghent on a Sunday, you cannot miss visiting the Kouter Flower Market.
It is a huge elongated square full of establishments where they sell flowers, seeds… It is a place full of color and a good atmosphere.